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Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Conservation Note

Although long-beaked echidnas are experiencing drastic population declines and are at high risk of extinction, the short-beaked echidna is common and well-protected in Australia.

Due to overhunting and habitat loss, long-beaked echidnas have experienced declines of at least 80% since the 1960s. All are Critically Endangered (IUCN).

See Mongabay article for discussion.

Population Status

Population estimates

  • No scientific studies; possibly 5-50 million individuals in Australia (SC Nicol, personal communication, 2017, unreferenced)
  • Overall population trend: stable (Alpin et al. 2016)
  • Geographic trends
    • Australia
      • Mainland
        • Considered widespread (Alpin et al. 2016)
      • Kangaroo Island
        • Previously high densities; still common, but populations are showing some decline (Nicol 2015b)
    • New Guinea
      • Declines due to overhunting (Nicol 2015a)
  • “Of all Australian terrestrial mammal species, Short-beaked Echidnas have been least affected by environmental changes associated with post-European disturbance” (Nicol 2015a)

Population structure

  • No publications on genetic differences among populations have been published (Nicol 2015b), as of September 2017

Conservation Status

IUCN

  • Least Concern (2016 assessment) (Alpin et al. 2016)
    • The five subspecies have not been separately assessed
  • Previous assessments
    • 2008: Least Concern
    • 1996: Lower Risk/least concern

CITES

  • Not listed

Government laws and regulations

  • Protected throughout Australia (Nicol 2015a; Nicol 2015b)

Threats to Survival

No major threats in most of its range (i.e., mainland Australia)

(Alpin et al. 2016)

  • Papua New Guinea
    • Overhunting (Augee et al. 2006; Nicol 2015a)
  • Kangaroo Island, Australia
    • Predation by feral cats and pigs (Nicol 2015a)
    • Habitat loss (Nicol 2015a), especially loss of forest for agriculture and livestock (Augee et al. 2006)
  • Hit by motor vehicles (Nicol 2015a)
  • Dogs are used by native peoples to hunt echidnas in New Guinea and Australia (Augee et al. 2006)
  • Used for ceremonial purposes throughout its range; not considered a threat (Alpin et al. 2016)
  • Overgrazing by livestock appears to reduce habitat quality (less vegetation cover, fewer resources) for echidnas in dry regions of Australia (Eldridge et al. 2016)

Notes on overhunting of echidnas

(Augee et al. 2006)

  • Echidna meat is prized for its oiliness
  • Factors contributing to overhunting in New Guinea include:
    • Growing human populations
    • Spread of Western technologies and use of dogs
    • With the spread of missionary influences, breakdown of cultural taboos that previously afforded echidnas protection
  • Echidna defenses are ineffective against human hunters; these animals can be easily located with dogs
  • Also see Culture and folklore in Taxonomy & History

Management Actions

Protected areas

  • Found in two protected areas in New Guinea and many protected areas in Australia; additional, large protected areas needed in New Guinea (Alpin et al. 2016)

Reduction of roadkill

  • Installation of culvert under roadways (Augee et al. 2006)

Government protections and scientific study

  • Considered to be the most-studied monotreme (Clemente et al. 2016)
  • Studies of vehicle strikes needed (Alpin et al. 2016)

Spiky Survivors

Short-beaked echidna

Short-beaked echidnas are common and protected in Australia, but have become rare in New Guinea due to overhunting.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

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